Workers will be able to avail of extended breastfeeding breaks and new unpaid leave entitlements as part of the work-life balance act.
Under the legislation, the entitlement to breastfeeding breaks will be extended from the current period of six months up to two years.
In addition to this, parents and carers will be entitled to a new right to unpaid leave for medical purposes.
Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman said: “By extending breastfeeding breaks to two years after the birth of the child, we can support women returning to work after maternity leave to continue to breastfeed, in line with best practices from a public health perspective.
“The new right to leave for medical care purposes will give parents and carers access to a flexible short-term form of unpaid leave, providing certainty at difficult moments, should they need it,” Mr O’Gorman added.
The act also provides for domestic violence leave and these measures are expected to be in place later this year.
The right to request remote or flexible working is also contained within the legislation.
Those provisions will commence once the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has finalised a code of practice.
The code will set out practical guidance for employers and employees when it comes to requesting remote or flexible work.
There will be an obligation on the employer to consider both their needs and the needs of employees when assessing a request.
A complaint can be taken to the WRC where an employer has not complied with the code.
ICTU Head of Social Policy and Employment Affairs Laura Bambrick said another new right will now allow five days in a year for medical care or support in case of a medical emergency to a close relative or house mate, which is unpaid. This is in addition to force majeure leave.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said that “we don’t expect the take-up of this to be huge”.
“It is unfortunate that it’s unpaid. The EU legislation on which this entitlement is based doesn’t require or oblige employers to pay it.
“But they do recommend that member states make it a requirement, but we chose not to follow that advice.”
She said people do have an entitlement to force majeure leave, which is three days’ paid leave over a 12 month period or five days’ paid leave over a 36-month period.
On remote working rights, Ms Bambrick said that is one of four outstanding rights under the Work Life Balance Act and Directive.
“Flexible and remote working right is currently with the Workplace Relations Commission, who’s designing a code of practice around which requests should be made and should be handled, and we would expect that to be in place by the end of the summer.
“The two other outstanding rights – we’d expect two additional paid weeks of parents’ leave for both parents with a child under two, and we would expect to see that in the upcoming budget, the EU tell us that should be in place by 2024.
“And the final outstanding family-friendly work life balance measure is the five days’ paid leave for domestic violence leave.
“There’s work ongoing in that and that should be announced over the summer,” she said.
Mother ‘fraught with anxiety’ over return to work
The entitlement to breastfeeding breaks will be extended from the current period of six months up to two years (stock image)
Also speaking to Morning Ireland, Ruth Hughes, a mother in Dublin, outlined her experience of returning to the workplace while still breastfeeding earlier this year.
Her baby daughter, Siún, was just over nine months old when she returned to work as a nurse in February.
“I was sort of panicking about how to make it all happen. You know, I was really anxious,” he said.
Ruth was going back into a busy workplace which left her really concerned about how to make breastfeeding her daughter work:
“I sort of was trying my best to get her to take the milk any other which way, which of course she wouldn’t. So I had to go back to work fraught with anxiety.’
Following her own experience, Ruth said that she believes these changes in legislation will have a very positive impact for parents:
“These new laws coming in will help give mothers more support when they go and speak to their bosses about asking for a break, a time away,” she said.
Ruth also believes that this is an opportunity to educate employers about what a child needs when it comes to breastfeeding which for many parents is a long term issue.
“It’s not something that happens on maternity leave for six months and that’s it. It’s six months and beyond and so I think it’s great. It will hopefully empower a few more people to speak up and ask them for what they need,” she said.